Bodybuilders may slather oil over the peaks and valleys of contest-ready muscle for maximum sheen, but it's the oil they gulp during the off season, and during pre-contest training, that matters the very most.
But while fat is fat is fat when it comes to gaining, losing or shredding, and in terms of how the body sees all fats as mostly equal when it comes to weight gain and loss, fats are far from created equal. That's because some oils serve the body and metabolism much better than others in the long run.
Health may be a six-letter word uttered often by Birkenstock-wearing hippies, but it's also important to your longevity as a bodybuilder.
Types of fats found in oils: Monounsaturated fats help lower what health professionals call "bad" fats - those are the low-density lipoproteins known as "LDL" fats. They represent the bad fat in the blood seen and read as cholesterol. "Good" fats - or high-density lipoproteins - can be manufactured by ingesting healthy fat, while bad fats can be diminished. High levels of LDL mean a higher risk for heart disease and stroke. High levels of HDL mean heart protection.
Polyunsaturated fats also help lower total numbers of cholesterol, but shows they may also curtail good cholesterol levels too.
Polyunsaturated fats are great sources of Omega-3 fatty acids. These have been shown to decrease the risk of blood clotting and inflammation and they help lower the risk for heart disease. Omega-3s are also linked to a reduced risk in Type 1 diabetes - which is also known as juvenile diabetes.
A Primer on Omega-3 and Omega-6 Fatty Acids
In general, Omega-3 fatty acids, and the oils that are rich in them - such as fish oil and flax seed oil - have a protective effect on the cells of the body.
Omega-3 fats have unique properties and are found in distinctly different foods. The three most common Omega-3s are usually remembered by their abbreviations because the names are far too long:
- ALA for alpha-linolenic acid
- EPA for eicosapentaenoic acid
- DHA for docosahexaenoic acid
These three members differ in the length of the carbon chain, and the number of bonds unsaturated with hydrogen (i.e. double bonds between the carbons). ALA has 18 carbons and 3 double bonds and is considered essential, because the body is unable to make it. So you must supplement it or get it as a part of your daily food diet. Alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), found abundantly in flax seed oil, is converted within the body to EPA and DHA - the same fatty acids in fish oil that support heart health, reduce inflammation, and improve the integrity of cellular walls and chains.
Benefits of Omega-3:
- EPA has 20 carbons with 5 double bonds. DHA has 22 carbons and 6 double bonds.
- DHA is an important brain nutrient that works in tandem with exercise to provide heart protection and heart health.
- Promotes healthy cholesterol levels
- Supports brain function
- Increases learning ability, focus, memory and problem-solving skills
- Controls blood pressure
- Supports weight loss and balance of blood sugar
- Improves mood
- Supports healthy hormonal balance, immune function and nervous system
- Prevents inflammation and relieves minor pain from inflammation
- Supports healthy occular vision
- Promotes healthy, youthful-looking skin
Omega-3 fatty acids can be found in fish, such as salmon, tuna, and halibut, as well as other marine-based plant and animal life such as algae and krill. It's also found heavily in nut-based oils, such as peanut, almond, cashew and others.
Balance, Balance, Balance:
But here's the caveat: Balance is everything. Maintaining an appropriate ratio between Omega-3 and -6 is crucial because they both work together toward health. Omega-3 reduces inflammation and protects the heart. Omega-6 fatty acids promote inflammation. The typical American diet contains around 15 to 25 times more Omega-6 fatty acids than Omega-3. A more appropriate, healthy balance should consist roughly of 2 to 5 times more Omega-6 fatty acids than Omega-3s. Some even say that a ratio of 1:1 is more appropriate.
Rating the Oils:
Main sources of Omega-6 fatty acids come from: Corn oil, soy, canola oil, safflower oil and sunflower oil. Experts say these are too overabundant in the diet.
Main sources of Omega-3 fatty acids come from: flaxseed oil, walnut oil, fish and fish oils, avocado, and other nut oils, such as peanut and almond butters and oils.
Olive oil, contains little of either, despite being touted as one of the healthiest oils.
Bodybuilders - Why the Fat You Choose Matters
Solid research has emerged over recent years that suggest that EFAs (essential fatty acids) in our diets can exert control over metabolic function at the cellular level. Fat storage and fat burning, along with glycogen synthesis can be greatly affected by the fats we choose to supplement and eat. So while you may not be born with the best of genetic codes, you can make up for it with adequate and correct fatty acid nutrition and reprogram your genetic code.
The best way to begin doing that is to get as much of your fat from flaxseed, nuts and fish as you do from canola oil, safflower oil and sunflower oil. Don't forget to add Omega-6 oils, but make sure it's 1:1 for metabolic and heart health - something important if you take anabolic steroids.
As Long Chains and Short Chains Go...
Medium chain triglycerides, such as coconut oil, burn fat like crazy. That result isn't achieved simply because most bodybuilders cut carbs and boost fat intake, along with protein. It's a conscious choice of the type of fat that causes maximum fat loss and rocket-launch metabolism.
Keep in mind that coconut oil is a saturated fat. Saturated fat is thought to be the devil in the lipid world. Short term use of coconut oil as a supplement can shake loose a stubborn last bit of fat loss and send the metabolism into orbit.
Good Sources of Dietary EFAs
- Food Omega-3 (grams per100g) / Omega-6 (grams per 100g)
- Flax (20.3) / (4.9)
- Hemp seeds (7.1) / (21.0)
- Pumpkin seeds (3.2) / (23.4)
- Salmon (3.2) / (0.7)
- Walnuts (3.0) / (30.6)
- Rape seed (2.1) / (9.0)
- Herring (2.0) / (0.4)
- Soybeans (1.2) / (8.6)
- Butter (1.2) / (1.8)
- Olive oil (0.6) / (7.9)
- Wheat germ (0.5) / (5.5)
- Sunflower seeds (0) / (30.7)
- Almond (0) / (9.2)
- Olives (0) (1.6)